Ethics - Moral law vs. Criminal law

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#71
Which is equivalent to the familiar restating of the Golden Rule: He who owns the gold makes the rules.
I don't buy that cynicism in regard to expectations of ethical behavior.

Certainly the prosecutions against Enron and more recently against Conrad Black would belie the theory that the wealthy can create their own rules of conduct. In each case, it was the "little people" who brought down the wealthy and powerful.

The point being that the QUANTITY of people who ascribe to an ethic or a code of conduct have power (it often takes a long time to wield that power by gathering a consensus opinion before it can be wielded) to achieve their desired goal.

Every successful political or cultural evolution comes about because enough people care deeply enough about a cause to achieve "critical mass" in exercising some power to achieve their goal. Critical mass does not have to be a majority if the majority are complacent and don't have a vested interest in the outcome.

A failed or aborted revolution simply means the movement didn't gain enough adherents to win over the opposition.

Revolutions can be bloody or bloodless, but they are never without pain and loss for one or both sides.

Similarly, imposing an ethical standard will not always win universal acceptance. Some will merely grumble and others may actively work to violate the ethical standards.
 
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Jim Wynne

Staff member
Admin
#72
I don't buy that cynicism in regard to expectations of ethical behavior.

Certainly the prosecutions against Enron and more recently against Conrad Black would belie the theory that the wealthy can create their own rules of conduct. In each case, it was the "little people" who brought down the wealthy and powerful.

The point being that the QUANTITY of people who ascribe to an ethic or a code of conduct have power (it often takes a long time to wield that power by gathering a consensus opinion before it can be wielded) to achieve their desired goal.
I don't think that citing a few particularly egregious cases is particularly helpful in seeing the big picture. Cook the books at your peril. It was going on long before Enron, is going on today, and will go on tomorrow. Such is the insidious nature of greed and self-aggrandizement. Often in such cases, prosecution comes about not because of anyone's concern about right and wrong, but because some politically-appointed (or elected) prosecutor sees an opportunity for drawing attention to himself. If the masses get uppity enough, the politicians will accommodate them, but it's just Band-Aids on sucking chest wounds and not some great victory for moral righteousness. Witness the fact that many "little people" had to get terribly screwed in the Enron case (and others like it) before ethics and morality came to the foreground.

The idea that the standard of ethics has no immutable source is clearly illustrated by the idea that the majority (either in numbers or preponderance) makes the rules, which is what I was trying to convey with the Golden Rule example. When there is no fixed, unambiguous standard, we're left on our own to decide what's ethical in any given situation. There will always be sociopaths--people for whom self-interest is paramount, and who lack the degree of conscience necessary for cultures to survive.

It seems to me that in the end, morality=lack of selfishness, and ethics is the set of standards we use personally to mitigate our selfish impulses. The degree to which we are willing to sacrifice our own parochial interests in the pursuit of some Greater Good will ultimately determine the survival of a culture.
 
L

Logic

#73
Re: Time to revisit

Well, it's been awhile since we visited the ethics thread.

Anyone out there think this thread has relevance to the recent recalls of products?

One of the questions I've asked myself with each new massive recall of toys, then cribs, then crib-like playyards, is how many quality guys and engineers were aware of the product substitutions and design flaws which led to the recalls. Some might ask, "What did they know and when did they know it?"

I would ask, "When you first learned of the flaws or nonconformances,
  • did you try to resolve issues through established channels?
OR
  • did you look for a way to ensure you, personally, had 'plausible deniability'?"
Isn't that an interesting ethical question?
Yes Wes, I do think this is relevant. That was the discussion I was trying to get to in my earlier post in a different thread.

I am enjoying the thoughtful discussion on this topic. In my original post I may not have expressed myself clearly enough. What I wanted to say was that implementing quality systems may not be enough. Do we not need to address the ethical issues as well as the quality issues? How can a company fail to take extra measures to protect children from lead poisoning? Although the customer clearly screams for "cheaper, cheaper" goods, there is still the expectation that the goods will be safe, especially when children are the target user group. Can't good corporate citizens make a lot of money as well? Of course that would mean they would have to realize that their suppliers need to be adequately paid for services. Maybe customers have not reached the point of "better quality at any price" yet but companies cannot stoop to "shoddy quality at the best price, producing the highest profit". Maybe Quality Managers need to become aware of how their companies are addressing these types of issues.
The discussion that has developed from your recent post has been priceless. Here it is on a Sunday when I should be outside looking at the beautiful fall colours and I find it difficult to pull myself away from the discussion in the Cove. I always learn something new when I visit and enjoy the tone of the discussions. It reminds me of my college days when I was a member of the debating club. Thank you all. :applause:
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#74
This is a three-year-old thread and yet it remains as topical as the day we began it.

Over the years, we've had some wiseacres take potshots at me and others, especially with gratuitous fluff phrases such as "He who owns the gold makes the rules." The fact remains that the true definition of ethical behavior is the aggregate of the moral sensibilities of the largest applicable population. Just as five bosses conspiring to make fraudulent accounting entries does not entitle them to declare themselves "ethical" in comparison to numerous investors, suppliers, employees thinking otherwise, neither does one nation have the right to declare themselves "ethical" in face of the rest of the world declaring the otherwise.

  1. What ethical dilemmas have YOU faced lately?
  2. Are you satisfied with how you handled them?
  3. Why?
 
#75
Having debated Jim on his blog and read 100's of Wes's posts with awe, I approach a post in this thread with no small degree of timidity but obviously much temerity.
Alexander Pope said:
'Nay, fly to Altars; there they'll talk you dead;
For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.
I am often the Abilene Paradox breaker both at home and at my company. I have been on so many of those hot and boring drives that all parties later regret. Now, I speak up and make sure that everyone is really willing to go along. I should probably keep score. I'll relate anecdotally that my record is better than 50% for changing the group direction. However, this record is predicated on recognizing body language and other cues that lead me to the conclusion that the group is headed towards a trip to Abilene. It is amazing how quickly folks will turn the bus around when even one person raises concerns.

As for the morality vs. ethics question, those who remember the Wild West days of the really controversial discussions forum will know that I can't even get started without crossing the Cove line.;) So, I'll tell a story. I have an associate whose North American Company does business in the Middle East. Generally, they site construction projects and then act as general contractor to complete the construction. It is simply impossible for them to do anything from the initial purchase of the land through striping the parking lot without "bribing" someone. [Huge generalization warning:] While this "bribery" would be considered illegal in their North American markets, it is a cultural institution in their Middle Eastern markets. They actually know how much this "skid-greasing" will cost them and it is a line item in the budget for just about everything. It's like an unofficial tax. Most of the people they deal with cannot support their family on their pay as their companies or governments "expect" them to collect the balance from the customer. So is "bribery" absolutely wrong everywhere or is this a case of "When in Rome..."?
The fact remains that the true definition of ethical behavior is the aggregate of the moral sensibilities of the largest applicable population.
In this case, how do you determine the largest applicable population on which to base your moral sensibilities? Is it where your company is based? Is it where your company does business? Should we quibble over which population is larger USA vs. "the Middle East" or "North America" vs. UAE?
 
Last edited:

Jim Wynne

Staff member
Admin
#76
Over the years, we've had some wiseacres take potshots at me and others, especially with gratuitous fluff phrases such as "He who owns the gold makes the rules." The fact remains that the true definition of ethical behavior is the aggregate of the moral sensibilities of the largest applicable population.
You either misunderstood or are deliberately misrepresenting this from earlier in the thread. In any event, What you're representing as "fact" and "true" is nothing more than your opinion on the matter.
 
#77
You either misunderstood or are deliberately misrepresenting this from earlier in the thread. In any event, What you're representing as "fact" and "true" is nothing more than your opinion on the matter.
Considering the person I quoted, I was loath to put it that bluntly but that was why I asked the questions.
 
#78
It seems to me that in the end, morality=lack of selfishness, and ethics is the set of standards we use personally to mitigate our selfish impulses. The degree to which we are willing to sacrifice our own parochial interests in the pursuit of some Greater Good will ultimately determine the survival of a culture.
This is the other post that caused my lack of caution in posting (thanks for the reminder, Jim). How do you get to a definition of "Greater Good" without what Marc calls a "myth system"? Don't answer that or we'll get this thread closed down for sure. Instead, I have some safer, but no less debatable, questions. In my example, who is more selfish, the company that stands on principle and refuses to hand out cash for technically illegal bribes, or the individual collecting? Is the company pursuing the greater good by accomplishing its mission (and technically violating the law) while simultaneously making it possible for the receiver to maintain a "decent" standard of living?
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#79
This is the other post that caused my lack of caution in posting (thanks for the reminder, Jim). How do you get to a definition of "Greater Good" without what Marc calls a "myth system"? Don't answer that or we'll get this thread closed down for sure. Instead, I have some safer, but no less debatable, questions. In my example, who is more selfish, the company that stands on principle and refuses to hand out cash for technically illegal bribes, or the individual collecting? Is the company pursuing the greater good by accomplishing its mission (and technically violating the law) while simultaneously making it possible for the receiver to maintain a "decent" standard of living?
The unethical part, it seems to me, is making the payments in secret, rather than saying to the world: "Here is the situation: John Doe has the power to shut down our project. He claims he doesn't earn enough to support his family unless we pay him an additional "personal commission." Is the rest of his government and the population of his country content that he, personally, should benefit from this project while so many others do not?"

I live in an area where public corruption is a joke, but oddly enough, when the feds finally get around to prosecuting it, none of the "little people" (like me) say, "Hey! Let those guys alone! We know all about the bribes and the resulting shortchanging on quality of projects to make up for the money being siphoned off by these folks and we are all right with that."

If the bribe is a line item in the budget, then it should be in the public accounting as a line item. A little sunshine often works wonders for eliminating the dirty business that goes on under the table.

I seem to remember an aphorism that went,
"All that is required for evil to prevail in the world is for good people to stand by and do nothing."
 

Randy

Super Moderator
#80
I seem to remember an aphorism that went,
"All that is required for evil to prevail in the world is for good people to stand by and do nothing."

Therein lies the problem with cross cultural and individual ethics....What may be evil for you may not be for me, and what may be good for you may be bad for me.

In many places in the world slavery is still practiced and accepted. Is it good or evil? In the Old Testament it was very much accepted within established guidelines.

Western culture, whether or not people wish to accept or acknowledge the fact, relies heavily on the "rights", "wrongs", "good" and "evils" established in the Christian Bible, which has as its basis the the Hebrew Torah and religious writings and those writings of the early followers of a Gallalean Carpenter. Other than early Judeo/Christian religious writings much of Western Law is still based upon old Roman jurisprudence, English Common Law and a smathering of other Western European legal practices.

The basis of our "western" ethics are drawn from all of the above, leaving out the other 3/4ths of the planets cultural beliefs and acceptable forms of behavior.

Who's right? Oop's, there it is again. What is right?
 
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